Later tonight, Lance Armstrong will be admitting his guilt and participation in years of lying about using performance enhancing drugs to cheat his way to 7 consecutive Tour de France titles in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Whether or not he talks about the people he trampled, ruined, forced out off of his team, defamed, and erroneously sued along the way we don’t know yet.
We do know Armstrong has already stepped down from an active role in the largest athlete-founded charity, the foundation he helped to found, LiveStrong. He was banned for life from cycling last August as well as been banned from competing in high profile triathlons. He has lost most, if not all, of his sponsors, like Nike, Oakley, and Anheuser-Busch. He is facing court dates and paying back millions of dollars he obtained off the back of his lies.
Now the world stage is set to banish Lance Armstrong to a celebrity Elba but there is a caveat with his story. Despite Lance’s bullying, scare tactics (he reportedly told former teammate Tyler Hamilton he would make Hamilton’s life a living hell), ego, lying, and millions of dollars earned off of massive cover-ups and lies, Lance (artificially) excelled in a sport that has more of its athletes using PED’s than professional wrestling. So much so, Lance’s vacated Tour de France titles could not even been given to the 2nd or 3rd place winners of those years because they failed drug tests. So in a PED sport like cycling, Lance was only keeping up with the Joneses (or maybe he was feeding them?).
And of course there is his fight with cancer in which he miraculously rose from what seemed like certain death, go on to win his Tour de France “titles”, and become a household name in a sport as popular as race-walking in this country. That name helped to make LiveStrong a charity that has raised almost a half of a billion dollars for cancer research.
Lance has also personified our idea of celebrity (in this country, sadly, that means something). He dated other celebrities, became a national icon and ran shirtless with Matthew McCaughey every chance he got. In a country that labeled Anna Nicole Smith, “America’s Rose”, Lance Armstrong may well have been worshipped on Sundays.
Because of this, many of us have split feelings on his final fate. On the surface and with those who have testified about him, Lance makes Barry Bonds look like Santa Claus but if you take a moment to glance under the surface of his amorality and mob boss intimidation, you see the thousands if not millions of people he and LiveStrong have helped and inspired.
This is the quandary I find myself in as a parent. Like most other news and happenings, I write through the lens of being a father. And in front of me, I am reading about a man who, on the one hand is morally bankrupt (at best) but on the other is partly responsible for incalculable amounts of good.
So I am trying to find out if there is a teachable moment I can pass along to my kids in all of this. To see if there is something salvageable I can pull from the wreckage of Lance Armstrong because part of parenting is recognizing teachable moments for our children, whether those moments come from taking out the trash to explaining why it might be ok to look past transgressions of lying and cheating.
So I ask myself, how do I balance the lessons I teach my children about the importance of being honest and (win or lose) the real value is in hard work with having to explain about Lance Armstrong?
Do I convey to my kids that somehow it was ok he cheated, lied, and bullied people because he has been able to help thousands of people fight cancer and inspire millions more?
What does it say about money and where it ranks with our values on the scale of importance? Is there some amount of money that would or could provoke us to abandon what we know is right?
Could Lance Armstrong’s admission of guilt open the door to talking to our kids about the dangers of drug use?
His story can be a lesson in compartmentalizing. I find myself looking at Lance Armstrong as two people. There is the cyclist, who acted more like a mob boss than a world class athlete. Then there is the man who beat cancer and whose name and iconic status helped to create one of the largest charities in the world to battle the disease. Can we place him in such a position?
Do we talk to our kids about having to face our demons upfront and without hesitation no matter the consequences? Do we tell them that it doesn’t matter the good you’ve done, if you have lied and cheated, none of it matters?
In the end, however I or any other parent decides to use this moment to communicate with our kids, what is certain is before he drifts off in to obscurity and public ridicule, Lance Armstrong is going to be a point of focus. Not for the sport of cycling or for cancer research but with our kids when we, as parents, are faced with tackling the inevitable barrage of questions about him. Maybe there will be no new lessons gathered from any of this that we can pass along to our kids but rather old lessons to reinforce? Because there may be no end to the questions we could face and no one right way to answer them, we just need to remember something Mr. Armstrong forgot a long time ago, honesty is the best policy.